Examining Japan’s Africa Policy Through TICAD V

Politics Economy

In June 2013 the city of Yokohama will host the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development. African studies specialist Endō Mitsugi looks at the TICAD process, now in its twentieth year, for hints to Japan’s diplomatic approach to the dynamic continent.

On June 1–3 this year the city of Yokohama will host TICAD V, the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development. Since its launch in 1993, this Japanese governmental initiative has given the governments of Africa’s nations, as well as the countries and international organs providing them with support, a forum for wide-ranging discussion on the future of development on the continent. 

In 2013 the TICAD process marks its twentieth year. “Hand in Hand with a More Dynamic Africa” is the slogan for this year’s gathering, marking considerably more confidence in the present state of the continent than the future-oriented “Towards a Vibrant Africa” that headed the Yokohama Declaration, the output of TICAD IV in 2008. This is an expression of the dramatic change Africa has undergone during its last several years of booming growth. Today Africa is increasingly positioned as a healthy market, a supplier of natural resources, and an investment target, and this year’s TICAD meeting should see participants produce a robust direction for mutually beneficial ties between Japan and Africa on the economic front.

Another focus of discussions is likely to be Japan’s continued involvement in efforts to pull African states out of armed conflict, building peace and stability on the continent, and to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, which have long been a cornerstone of international aid for Africa. As a preliminary step to this year’s Yokohama gathering, the TICAD V Ministerial Preparatory Meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March set forth a blueprint for talks along these lines.

New Ideals Underpinning Japan’s Africa Diplomacy

Japan’s moves in these recent TICAD dealings are informed by its diplomatic approach to the region, which has since the turn of the century been built on a set of key themes. These are spelled out in the 2012 Diplomatic Bluebook, which indicates Africa as “increasingly important for Japan’s diplomacy” from three key perspectives. First, it is “Japan’s duty as a responsible member of the international community to earnestly work toward the resolution of the various problems facing Africa,” thereby earning the trust of the international community. Second, it is important for Japan “to strengthen the economic relationship with Africa,” a promising market with high growth rates, abundant natural resources, and an increasing population. And third, for Japan, “the cooperation of African countries is essential to further address global issues,” including reform of the UN Security Council and climate change.

These three perspectives are closely tied to TICAD V. Tighter Japanese ties with the “More Dynamic Africa” referenced in this year’s slogan are a means of achieving the stronger economic relationship of the second perspective, while the first and third perspectives, addressing problems facing Africa and tackling global problems with African participation, are integral to efforts to achieve peace and stability and pursue the MDGs in Africa.

Before these ideals took shape in Japan's Africa diplomacy, Tokyo’s foreign policy approach to the continent was often described as little more than reactive steps implemented in response to moves by other countries or the global community. During this period, there is little doubt that Japan’s reactive policy was influenced most by China’s increasingly energetic approaches to Africa.

Since the year 2000 or so, China has carved out a growing role for itself on the continent as a donor state and an economic actor. Like the concept of Françafrique, which once described France’s close ties with much of the continent in the context of its former colonial possessions, we saw the rise of the new concept of Chinafrique. Beijing’s advance into the African economic sphere played no small part in prompting Japan to rethink its own foreign policy approach by crafting ideals on which to build a more deeply thought-out diplomacy.

TICAD IV took place in the midst of this new context for Asia-Africa ties. Meeting participants adopted the Yokohama Declaration along with the Yokohama Action Plan, a detailed road map for the implementation of the declaration’s targets. The 2008 meeting also saw the creation of the TICAD Follow-up Mechanism as a means of ensuring that the TICAD process would involve ongoing implementation of measures and steady evaluation of their outcomes, rather than simply being an event held once every several years.

The Yokohama Action Plan clearly presented actions to be undertaken by the countries and international organizations involved in the TICAD process, including numerical targets, through 2012 in five areas: boosting economic growth, achieving the MDGs, consolidating peace and good governance, addressing environmental and climate-change issues, and broadening partnerships for the continent.

The new Follow-up Mechanism in particular—as a way to monitor the implementation of TICAD measures, examine whether goals were being met, share information among all involved parties, and provide a forum for needed discussion—was connected with a fresh focus in the global community on the effectiveness of international aid. Japan’s actions within this mechanism included a number of joint missions for promoting trade with and investment in Africa, part of a policy approach seeking to enhance economic ties with African countries through coordinated efforts by the government and private sector.

Fresh Approaches to Peacebuilding

Japan also broke from its previous mold with its actions off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, where piracy attracted considerable global attention from around 2008 onward, and with its participation in UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, which gained independence in July 2011. By dispatching its Self-Defense Forces to take part in these operations, Japan displayed a more robust approach to peacebuilding in Africa than it ever had before.

Japanese antipiracy measures kicked off in January 2009 with the dispatch of Maritime SDF escort vessels to accompany Japan-flagged vessels, ships with Japanese crews, and other vessels with some tie to the country. In June that year the Diet passed the Act on Punishment of and Measures Against Acts of Piracy, enabling Japanese action to strike back at pirates, no matter what their nationality, and to defend vessels of all flags from piracy in line with UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. (In practice, this means that Japan Coast Guard officers are stationed on escort vessels to handle policing tasks including arrests and investigations when acts of piracy take place.) In June 2011 Japan stepped up its antipiracy presence in the region by establishing its first-ever SDF base overseas. The new Djibouti base has given Japan the capability for continuous antipiracy actions in the waters of the region.

On November 15, 2011, the cabinet of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko approved the dispatch of Ground SDF engineers to South Sudan. Based on UN Security Council Resolution 1996 of July 8, the day before the new country gained its independence, this decision sent some 300 GSDF members to take part in UNMISS, the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan. Japan viewed this new state—the site of some 80% of the oil production of the prepartition nation of Sudan—as a vital actor in Japanese resource strategy. But this was also a move in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s earlier request to then Prime Minister Kan Naoto for help from the SDF, and a way for Japan to clearly display its willingness to take on its fair share of responsibility in the international community.

Another development that attracted similar levels of attention to the SDF activity in Djibouti and South Sudan was the rapid elevation of the liaison offices set up in those two nations to full embassy status. The embassy in Djibouti was formally launched on January 1, 2012, and the embassy in South Sudan is expected to begin operation within fiscal 2013 (running through the end of March 2014). By constructing diplomatic outposts as strategic bases of operations closely tied to its peacebuilding actions, Japan is now displaying a new phase in its Africa policy.

Future Courses for Africa Policy

TICAD V will for the first time see the AU Commission, the executive organ of the African Union, standing alongside the Japanese government, the United Nations, the UN Development Program, and the World Bank as a co-organizer of the gathering. The AU Commission has served as a co-organizer for the TICAD process since 2010, in which capacity it has been involved in meetings under the Follow-up Mechanism. Japan’s government places considerable weight on the African Union’s conflict prevention, management, and resolution activities and, by bringing the AU Commission onboard in this way, has shown that a stronger relationship with the union is a primary focus of its Africa diplomacy.

At the preparatory meeting held in March in Addis Ababa, the assembled cabinet-class representatives confirmed the direction their nations would take at TICAD V. At this meeting the African side indicated a variety of problems with the 2013 Yokohama Declaration and 2013–17 Yokohama Action Plan that are scheduled for adoption at the June conference. We should also note that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the South African who has chaired the AU Commission since 2012, holds a somewhat more cautious position on the TICAD process than her predecessor, Gabon’s Jean Ping, who was chairperson when it was decided that the AU would take on the role of co-organizing the conference.

Traditionally, TICAD has primarily been a platform built around official development assistance, although it did involve efforts to bolster economic ties in the private sector through public-private cooperative actions. Now that the African economy is undergoing dramatic change, though, it is increasingly clear that the participants in the process must come up with more flexible approaches. For the further development of a foreign policy approach with the African Union at its center, Japan must confirm the role of Addis Ababa, home to the AU headquarters, as a hub for multilateral diplomacy in Africa and find ways to direct resources toward the enhancement of that role. One way or another, though, we will likely see hints to Japan’s future diplomatic approach to Africa at TICAD V in Yokohama this summer.

(Originally written in Japanese in May 2013.)

diplomacy United Nations China politics foreign policy Africa aid SDF ODA resources Endo Mitsugi TICAD MDGs peacebuilding Djibouti South Sudan